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Masks of Deception: Stop Tricking Your Peers

Two weeks ago, we talked about the masks that we wear in front of our conscience. Last week, we talked about the masks that we wear in front of our friends. But this week, we’re going to talk about the masks that we wear in front of our peers.

Just to clarify, friends are different from peers. Friends are people that we like spending time with. When we wear masks in front of them, it’s mostly to keep them by our side. And we choose our friends.

But we don’t choose our peers. They simply live alongside us.

Often, we want to impress them, ignore them, defy them, or rise above them. And it’s easy to wear masks in front of them because they don’t know us well enough to determine whether we’re telling the truth or not. Besides that, sometimes we don’t think they’re entitled to know our true selves. But that doesn’t mean that we should feed them lies and deceit.

As God says, “Lie not one to another” (Col. 3:9, KJV)–and He’s not only talking about telling the truth with our lips, because He adds, “seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds.” So let’s be honest in word and deed by taking off our masks. But what are the masks we wear for our peers?

According to the Business Insider, the stress of many high-paying jobs drives some to suicide (Lubin 2011).

1. The Mask of Success

Have you ever seen people who look like they have their lives together? Perfectly together, in fact? If so, then either you didn’t look far enough or they were wearing a mask. 

I’m not denying the existence of successful people or spiritual giants because they do exist. But they’re rare, and they’re never perfect.

According to the Business Insider, the stress of many high-paying jobs drives some to suicide (Lubin 2011).

And if you’ve read the full stories of the Bible heroes that we looked up to in Sunday school, then you know they made mistakes, too: Elijah tried to commit suicide (1 Kgs. 19:3-5), David killed a man to steal his wife (1 Sam. 11), and Peter cowardly ceded to legalism (Gal. 2:11-16).

It’s easy to overlook their flaws because of their great deeds. But we shouldn’t forget that they were as human as we are.

Those of us who wear success like a mask are liable to hide our weaknesses and insecurities behind the halo effect. We like to claim that we have already won the game of life and climbed up the highest rung of the socio-economic ladder, but that’s not true because of three reasons:

Success isn’t final.

Success in one area doesn’t transfer to another.

Success is a matter of perspective.

He never got lost in his halo.

Instead, he got lost in God.

Therefore, if we use our popularity, beauty, or workplace success to distract from the imperfections looming around the other aspects of our lives, then we will be very embarrassed when someone who is either higher up the ladder, doesn’t care about our success, or doesn’t agree with our definition of success sees through our mask.

And if that doesn’t punch a hole into our perfect masks, then our failures will. We’re human, after all. It’s bound to happen at some point. And then what do we do?

Instead of winding up embarrassed when the mask crumples off, it’s better to not wear it like Paul did. Of all spiritual giants, he could’ve taken advantage of the halo effect. After all, he had an abundance of revelations and spiritual gifts. But he didn’t let it get to him.

In fact, he often referenced himself as the least of the apostles, honestly talked about his struggle to do right, and never let anyone forget how God redeemed him out of his horrible past as a murderer. He never got lost in his halo.

Instead, he got lost in God.

If you read any of Paul’s epistles, you may notice that he often gets caught up talking about God’s glory. Instead of focusing on his success, he focuses on how God allowed him to succeed. And instead of focusing on his failures, he focused on how God gloriously redeemed him out of them. Get the picture?

This is the mask of those of us who build walls around our hearts and raise our thrones to high heaven.

He lived according to God’s command that says, “Let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth” (Jer. 9:24a).

2. The Mask of Superiority

This is the mask of the ice king and queen. This is the mask of those of us who build walls around our hearts and raise our thrones to high heaven. This is the mask that guards against pain—and against love. And it’s easy to wear. Unlike the mask of success, the mask of superiority doesn’t require many external accomplishments that people value. Instead, it wraps a cynic, a judge, and a self-proclaimed lone hero into one.

This mask puts the wearer on a pedestal where he judges the world as beneath him in some way. It is like the mask of success in reverse because it focuses on others’ failures to make itself feel better and look acceptable.

I’ve done this before, and maybe you have, too. It’s a comfortable mask to wear because it allows us to hide our hurt by making our critics into straw men. But it’s not healthy. We end up finding fault with everything and everyone, and then we wonder why we never find anything to be happy about.

Knowing this, God says, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3).

It hurts to care, you may say. Yes, I know. But if Christ can extend His love to Judas, knowing He would invest in him in vain, knowing His love would be thrown back in His face, and knowing that His enemy (Satan) would use Judas to hurt him, then we can extend our love to other people who may one day turn out to be another Judas.

Love even when they stab you in the back.

After all, God loved us when we were yet sinners, and not just with any love: he loved us with a sacrificial love. A love for people that hated him, spit on him, and murdered him. When Christ calls us to step outside our fortresses and take up our crosses, He’s not saying we should only love those who love us. He’s saying, love even when they stab you in the back.

I’m not saying that you need to stay in toxic relationships. But I am saying that you, just like I, need to graciously love others despite the pain they may inflict or have inflicted in the past. You can love someone from a distance. Christ didn’t force anyone to love Him back, after all. And if they don’t follow, He walks away. But He still loves, either way.

Learn to lean on God and focus on His pleasure—He’ll always be there to bandage your wounds.

After all, the first and greatest commandment is to wholly love God, “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt. 22:39).

3. The Mask of Assent

It is in this dynamo of relationships that we are destroyed.

We hate to admit it, but we’re all sheep. And instead of being happy as God’s sheep, we follow other men and wear masks to appear socially acceptable. We are desperate for the esteem of others, for as Philosopher R.S. Peters argued, man’s actions are “not simply directed towards ends” like money, beauty, or intelligence—they “conform to social standards and conventions, and unlike a calculating machine he acts because of his knowledge of rules and objectives” (R. S. Peters, 5).

Then, we try to absorb man’s praise as if it were love to raise our estimation of ourselves. We form negative dependency relationships, prioritizing man’s opinion over God’s. As clergyman Murphree says, “It is in the dynamo of relationships that motives are born,” (15). But we can also add that it is in this dynamo of relationships that we are destroyed (Prov. 29:25).

Sometimes, we want man’s approval enough to change ourselves. We laugh at the appropriate times and follow the social rules as best we can, never realizing that this doesn’t mean people approve of us: no, it means they approve of our mask.

The good opinion of men is fickle and changing anyway. Jesus spends much of Matthew 6 disparaging it. But God’s good opinion is eternal and lasting–God’s good opinion matters.

Some of us hide our tears with anger, and our broken pieces by breaking others.

As the loving Savior says, “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe” (Prov. 29:25).

4. The Mask of Wrath

Some of us hide our tears with anger, and our broken pieces by breaking others.

Many of our arguments come from a feeling that someone got in the way of what we wanted (ref. Jam. 4:1, Prov. 13:10) and many of our sins can be traced to pride (ref. Prov. 11:2, 16:18, 18:12, 26:12). When we get mad at people, it is not usually because they broke the law of decency, but because they broke it concerning us. We care because we are affected.

And then we want to cry, and it could be for good reason. But we keep it in because we think tears make us look weak and anger makes us look strong, like someone others don’t want to mess with. We think that anger makes people take us seriously. Anger pushes the undesirable feelings of pain and loss away.

But it’s a mistake. The “fix” that we get from anger is only temporary.

And if that doesn’t motivate you, maybe this verse will help you like it’s helped me: “For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment” (Jm. 2:13). So let’s not be hasty to extend anger instead of mercy, knowing that we need mercy as much as the next guy.

It may be painful when our only other recourse is to cry. But that’s okay—the God-man, Jesus, cried, too (Jn. 11:35). So did Paul (2 Cor. 2:4). And the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 9:1).

We need people. It’s just a fact of life. Just like it’s a fact that we need water, food, and shelter to survive.

Tears don’t make you weak. And anger doesn’t make you strong. In fact, controlling your anger, however strange it may sound, makes you stronger, because God says, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Prov. 16:32). 

5. The Mask of Indifference

In this sin-infested world, it’s easy to get hurt. And though turning to anger to replace the hurt is a dangerous game, so is wearing the mask of indifference. This is similar to the mask of superiority, but not quite. Its wearers don’t pretend to be better, just detached. But God created man for companionship, and even introverts like I must socialize to some extent.

We need people. It’s just a fact of life. Just like it’s a fact that we need water, food, and shelter to survive.

Still, some of us claim that we don’t care about our social status. However, after maturing a bit, I’ve come to realize that I don’t believe this is true for anyone. I’m not saying that no one is indifferent to popularity—some of us don’t care for attention anyway–but I am saying that none of us are indifferent to becoming a social pariah.

It’s okay to tell people, as patiently as you can, that they need to stop acting like life is beauty pageant and like they’re the judges.

Of course, I recommend confronting the bullies, but if that doesn’t work and no one listens, you won’t stop caring. It may affect you less if you have a solid friend group, but you’re still going to care no matter how hard you wish you didn’t.

We cannot pretend to be indifferent to our need for status, friendship, or acceptance. And sometimes, that means we do care about our appearance. Not all of us care to the same extent, but if you do, it’s okay to tell people, as patiently as you can, that they need to stop acting like life is beauty pageant and like they’re the judges. It’s also okay to walk away.

And if your own stream-of-thought is your enemy, remind yourself who you are in Christ.

The bullies may continue to hurt you, but you must not focus on that. You must focus on God’s command to love our enemies. That’s hard, I hear you say. Yes, it is. But God isn’t asking us to do something that He hasn’t already done.

The same God who command us to love one another also says, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” (Jer. 31:3). Don’t play the ice king or queen. Be kind, and leave space for God to deal with your oppressors Himself.

6. The Mask of Victimhood

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but we can’t finish without discussing the mask of victimhood. Republicans call it pulling out the “victim card” and identity politics. Democrats call it righting past wrongs. But if we’re able to step out of the political sphere for a moment, we can acknowledge that God has something to say about this issue just as He has something to say about every issue of our age.

And from what I’ve read in the Bible, the victim-mindset is another mask.

After all, I doubt many of us can honestly claim to have suffered more than Paul. He was shipwrecked, snake-bitten, beaten, whipped, imprisoned, and eventually executed for his faith in Christ. But he didn’t respond by acting like a victim, he didn’t shift the blame, and he certainly didn’t excuse personal faults and shortcomings because he’d suffered oppression.

It’s a double-standard tipped in our favor.

Instead, after listing a host of his terrible trials, he penned the words, “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him [Christ] that loved us” (Rom. 8:37).

And doesn’t it get tiring to keep track of others’ wrongdoings? Doesn’t it get tiring to hold on to old grudges and disputes? Doesn’t it get tiring to blame everyone and make ourselves feel helpless to stop the forces of injustice around us?

Another thing most of us don’t realize is how biased we are. After all, we rage at others for having faults that we also have. It’s a double-standard tipped in our favor.

But we don’t have to give in to our tendency to wear the mask of victimhood–we can be victors in Christ. It may require us to stand up despite what others have to say on the matter, but that’s okay. That’s to be expected.

Didn’t Christ, who died to win us the victory, admonish us that we “not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal. 6:9)?

All the masks we’ve discussed are meant to impress others or protect self, but in the end, they all go against God. They put God last in favor of the “‘motive beyond the motives, the swollen selfish desire to please self’” (Murphree, 43). But we can’t live for our flesh when God calls us to walk in the Spirit.

True, not everyone will be fully satisfied by our performance, but other people are only servants of the same Master anyway. Our goal should be to serve our Master not our fellow servants.

We must seek God’s pleasure first until all “other desires [are] reordered and preempted by this deep love motive” (Murphree, 15), a motive that dethrones every love trying to take the rightful place of God. This love for God’s pleasure will allow us to take off our masks, despite how shocking it may be to those around us (2 Sam. 12:13) or to ourselves (Ps. 139:23-24).

I’m not saying to bare our bones and show our vulnerabilities for anyone to see, but we shouldn’t disguise the truth of our nature. After all, we cannot commune “face to face” with God or our fellow man “till we have faces” (C.S. Lewis).

 

1 thought on “Masks of Deception: Stop Tricking Your Peers”

  1. Wow that was deep!, thank you Pam for helping us to see further than our normal; may God continue using you for his honor and glory.

    Like

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